Morris gives verbal to play baseball at Liberty
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Warwick baseball coach Matt Gale still remembers the moment.
The moment when he knew Tyler Morris was a special ball player.
It came in the 2010 District Three Quad-A semi-finals against South Western flame-thrower and Temple University recruit Matt Hockenberry, as Morris laced an outside fastball to right field for a seventh inning base hit.
"Tyler (as a freshman) was one of the few kids that hit him that game," Gale said. "He put the ball in play and he wasn’t intimidated at all. He showed good plate discipline and drove the ball hard the other way when a lot of our seniors and juniors were having a hard time hitting this kid."
Recalling that particular game, it comes as no surprise to Gale that his star outfielder/pitcher, still only a junior, has given a verbal commitment to play Division-I baseball. Starting in the spring of 2014, Morris will be digging into the batter’s box as a member of the Liberty University Flames.
"I was really happy for him when I heard that," Gale said. "It’s just impressive to be able to play at that level and I think he’s definitely capable of it. I know he’s worked really hard and dedicated himself year-round for a couple of years now at least and he loves baseball, so it was good to see him have an opportunity to play at that level."
Part of that year-round training included putting on the uniform of the Mid-Atlantic Canes 16U travel team last summer and competing in games up and down the eastern seaboard. Under the encouragement of Canes’ coach Mark Helsel, Morris and his teammates listed their top five to 10 college choices.
Liberty, of course, was on Morris’ radar, along with the likes of Pitt, Maryland and UConn. But the Flames were his top pick from the get-go. Family friends gave ringing endorsements of the Lynchburg, Va. school, and the fact that Liberty is a Christian university only added to its lure.
Morris toured the campus last summer and then attended a camp there in October. To go along with his 6-foot-4 frame, he also ran a strong time in the 60 and opened some eyes among the Flames’ coaches. Before leaving to return home, Morris received a partial scholarship offer, and then he later phoned Liberty University recruiting coordinator Jason Murray to accept.
"We visited in the summer and that definitely upped the ante," said Morris, who is considering a major in elementary or middle school education and a minor in coaching. "Then when I went down to the camp, it basically just exceeded everything and I knew that’s where I wanted to go … Obviously, I didn’t want a big party kind of school because that’s not me, really. And I love (Liberty’s) coaches — I get along with them very well."
Knowing that the 2011 Flames, coming off a 35-24 season, also had seven players selected in the Major League Baseball draft last June — including Colby Rasmus’ brother Casey, a catcher — didn’t hurt in Morris decision-making process. Liberty, in fact, has had a player taken in every MLB Draft since 2000. In 2010, Liberty skipper Jim Toman led the Flames to a school-record 42 victories.
"They’ve got a good program moving up," said Morris, who is also the second-leading scorer for Warwick’s basketball team. "MLB teams know about them, so I figure that’s a good thing too. That’s where you eventually want to end up. That’s your goal."
Morris acknowledged that giving a verbal commitment as a junior could limit others from making an offer down the road, but he is confident that he didn’t rush into a decision.
"That’s always there if you commit early, but we weighed the decisions and thought about it a lot," he said. "It wasn’t just an on-the-spot kind of thing. There might be some other offers that come in, but I know that (Liberty) is a good top-50, top-100 D-I school."
The Flames will be getting a player who, as Gale describes, is a standout hitter. For the Warriors in 2011, Morris batted .409 while leading the squad in hits (36), RBI’s (35), at-bats (88) and doubles (11). He also hit two home runs and one triple and scored 22 runs.
"I swing as hard as I can every time and if I get a good level and it goes over the fence, then that’s great," Morris said. "Usually, it finds the gap."
"He’s just a disciplined hitter and has a good eye, good contact," Gale said, "and he showed power at times last year — kinda like a gap-to-gap type of power. He has a good work ethic."
Liberty has recruited Morris as an outfielder, and his natural position is center field. But the hard-throwing righty will also get plenty of innings on the mound for Warwick again this spring. Last year, Morris was 5-2, 2.43 ERA with 22 K’s in 46 innings.
"I’d say he will probably be our three hitter and play center field again when he’s not pitching," Gale said. "In the outfield, he’s pretty athletic but also gets good jumps on balls. He could certainly be our ace going into the season with the best statistics and most experience coming back from last year. As long as his arm is holding up, we’ll need him to be on the mound in order to be successful this year. And he’s a competitor, so I know he will be willing to do it. We’ll look for him as a leader too hopefully, and a leader by example."
Liberty, meanwhile, could look for Morris to contribute early in his career there.
"They have another guy who might either get drafted right into MLB or go there," Morris said. "Depending on that situation, I could start my freshman year."
Regardless, he feels comfortable about his decision giving Liberty a verbal commitment.
"I obviously need to keep up my game," Morris said. "I can’t just slack off, I need to work hard still, but it does take off a lot of pressure, even with my travel team, the Canes. I can just hopefully think ahead instead of worrying about right now." More MORRIS, page B-4